Notes on the origin of Peronism

Image: Lair Arce


The emergence of a political current with mass weight, multiform, equally right and left

October 17, 1945, celebrated by Peronism as the Day of Loyalty, is a date as contradictory as it is inevitable for understanding Argentine history in the period after World War II and the political dynamics of the labor movement.

It is the date, on the one hand, of a powerful mobilization led by a renewed working class, which invaded Buenos Aires to occupy Plaza de Mayo and demand the freedom of then-colonel Juan Domingo Perón, detained by the government in force, of whom he made part. And, on the other hand, the emergence of Peronism, one of the most influential bourgeois nationalist movements of the XNUMXth century, driven by this workers' manifestation, limited by the absence of a genuinely revolutionary alternative.

A mass-weight political current emerged, multiform, equally of the right and left, which in these almost 80 years has been fed both by conservative nationalism and by “revolutionary” rhetoric, without this preventing it from shaping conscience and controlling the course of politics. Argentine working class.

The context

The subject requires consideration of the impact of the world capitalist crisis that broke out in 1929 and the characteristics of what in Argentina is remembered as the “infamous decade” (1930-1943), a period marked by socioeconomic deterioration, corruption and the explicit use of “patriotic fraud” in the elections, which began with the military coup that overthrew President Hipólito Yrigoyen.[I]

Faced with the drastic reduction, resulting from the economic crisis, of the European market, the main destination of Argentine exports, the United Kingdom decided to favor the purchase of meat from the Community of Nations, formed by its colonies and former colonies.

The opulent Argentine oligarchy, which had accumulated fortunes by promoting an agro-export economic model umbilically dependent on British capital and commerce, desperately tried to maintain its share in that market. President Agustín P. Justo sent a mission to London.

On May 1, 1933, Argentine Vice President Julio A. Roca (son)[ii] and British chargé d'affaires Walter Runciman sign a lion's trade agreement: the UK has committed to continuing to buy chilled meat from Argentina as long as the price is the lowest on the market, and Argentina has agreed that 85% of these exports would be made through British-owned meatpacking plants, while exempting Empire imports from duty. Sterling pounds from meat sales to the United Kingdom would be used to meet the exchange demands of British companies wishing to remit dividends to their headquarters. In addition, the Central Bank of the Argentine Republic was created, with a board of directors with a strong British affiliation. As if that were not enough, the Roca-Runciman Pact established the British monopoly of public transport in Buenos Aires.

The Argentine oligarchy once again showed its submission to imperialist capital. This could be summarized in the declaration of Julio A. Roca (son) in 1940: “Argentina, due to its reciprocal interdependence, is, from the economic point of view, an integral part of the British Empire”.[iii]

However, the worsening of the economic crisis, throughout the 1930s, led sectors of the native bourgeoisie to promote a limited process of industrialization to replace imports to supply the domestic market in view of the difficulties of international trade. This process of encouraging national light industry would be accentuated with the start of the Second World War in Europe.

Industrialization, although limited, stimulated an internal migration of thousands of unemployed people from the countryside to the big urban centers, mainly Buenos Aires, Rosario and Córdoba. This gave rise to a new proletariat in the provinces, different from that influenced by the great wave of European immigration between 1880 and 1914,[iv] whom the oligarchy described as “the scum of the other seas”. The new layers of the working class had no trade union experience or contact with anarchist, social democratic or communist ideas.

These internal changes were conditioned by the international scenario, marked by the turbulence of a profound alteration in the correlation of forces between the imperialisms. Although the process began much earlier, it is well known that the end of the Second World War imposed the hegemony of US imperialism over the other powers. During the 1930s, the US commercial and political offensive in Latin America, disputing positions with the United Kingdom and Germany, had been intense. After its entry into the European war in December 1941, Washington's pressure on the South American countries to break off relations with the Axis countries spared no incentives or threats.

The relationship with the new imperialist order that was emerging revealed a split in the Argentine bourgeoisie. Traditional sectors, tied to the agro-export model, preferred to remain under British family tutelage; other ownership fractions, such as the financial, industrial and cereal sectors, saw the need to align themselves with the US, the rising power. Despite these internal contradictions, the property-owning classes as a whole never questioned the subordinate position they would continue to occupy in the new international division of labor.

In general terms, this is the historical context, national and international, in which Peronism would emerge.

The military coup of 1943

On June 4, 1943, a section of the army's high command, organized into a kind of lodge called the GOU (Group of United Officers), led a coup d'état that overthrew President Ramón Castillo. The event marked the end of the “infamous decade”.

The GOU, of which Colonel Perón was a member, defended a nationalist and anti-communist program that, to a certain extent, took the form of relative resistance to Argentina's entry into the US orbit.

The fascist influence on the GOU (Group of United Officers) was notable. Perón, who studied in Italy between 1939 and 1941, did not hide his enthusiasm for Mussolini: “This great man Mussolini knows what he wants and he knows the way to achieve that goal (…)”. In his letters he expressed admiration for the way in which fascism “governs and administers, that is, directs capital, labor and spiritual forces which it does not neglect”.[v]

The 1943 coup served the immediate interests of the employers' fractions linked to British imperialism. At the same time, it sought to resolve the bourgeois crisis based on a strong government, able to face the “communist danger”, that is, to put an end to an eventual radicalization of the working class and popular masses in a scenario of economic crisis.

The bosses' fear was not unfounded. The Argentine working class was involved in very tough confrontations between 1935 and 1937, with a high point in 1936, with the civil construction strike in Buenos Aires. The conflict broke out in October 1935 and lasted nearly 100 days. Mass assemblies and mobilizations, work committees, strike pickets, in short, the hard resistance of the workers broadened the movement, generating enormous solidarity in working-class neighborhoods. This led to a general strike on January 8 and 9, 1936, with strong participation and physical clashes with repressive state forces. The bosses and the government were defeated: they had to pay the demanded wages; accept the eight-hour workday; the existence of joint commissions to negotiate wages and working conditions; and recognize the Federation of Civil Construction Workers.

On October 2, 1943, a strike broke out among meatpacking workers. The regime had arrested José Peter, leader of the meat union and member of the Communist Party (PC), in Neuquén. Perón ordered his transfer to Buenos Aires, and proposed that he end the strike in exchange for his freedom and no layoffs. Peter relented and defended the end of the strike before six thousand workers at the Dock Sud stadium, arguing that the supply of meat to the Allied troops fighting Hitler could not be stopped.

Workers returned to work on 3 October. However, neither the bosses nor the government fulfilled their part of the bargain, and they went on the offensive. On October 21, the police raided the premises of the Federation of Meat Industry Workers (FOIC), arrested several of its members, seized and auctioned off their assets. The union was outlawed. José Peter returned to prison. This betrayal provoked a process of distrust and rupture of the working class with the CP, a fact that would be skilfully exploited by Perón.

Among the military men who took power, the one who best understood the sociopolitical context and identified the potential of this new working class to become both a danger to the ruling classes and a solid social base for a political project of its own, was Colonel Perón.

On December 10, 1943, he assumed the modest position of head of the Secretariat of Labor and Social Security. In this post, he promoted a systematic policy of rapprochement with the working class under the slogan of promoting “social justice”.

During his mandate, collective bargaining agreements were signed and severance pay, paid holidays, Christmas bonuses and the Rural Worker Statute were established, among other basic rights. State propaganda presented these conquests as concessions, gifts from a beneficent caudillo. In this way, the colonel gained the confidence of the majority of the working class, displacing, through co-option and violence, the former social-democratic or communist trade union leaders. The betrayals of the latter, in turn, facilitated the process of Peronization of Argentine trade unionism.

The policy of “social justice” and state control of unions sought to undermine the foundations of a possible social explosion, in a convulsive context of world war. It was also the best way to contain the potential of communism. Perón made this evident in his famous speech to the Stock Exchange in 1944, when he addressed an audience made up of the cream of the Argentine oligarchy: “The unorganized working masses present a dangerous panorama, because the most dangerous mass, without a doubt, is the inorganic. Modern experience shows that the most organized masses of workers are undoubtedly those who can be best directed and led in all areas. The lack of a well-defined social policy led to the formation in our country of this amorphous mass (...) These inorganic and abandoned masses, without a general culture, without a political culture, were a fertile ground for these foreign professional agitators (...) a way to solve the problem of mass unrest, which is true social justice as far as possible for your country's wealth and for your own economy”.[vi]

In other words, the state should discipline the “inorganic masses” to prevent their discontent from leading to social revolution. Perón warned the bosses about the danger of ignoring the “natural disengagement of the masses”: “Days of unrest may come (…) It is in our hands to end the situation before it reaches that extreme, in which all Argentines will have something to lose, a loss that will be directly proportional to what each one has: he who has a lot will lose everything, and he who has nothing will lose nothing. And, as those who have nothing are so much more than those who have a lot, the problem now presents a crisis point as serious as few can conceive”.[vii]

The fallacy of reconciling capital and work, always repeated by Perón and the Peronists, weakened the working class's conception of independence and self-organization, disarming it before the bosses. In his May 1, 1944 speech, Perón declared: "We seek to suppress the class struggle, replacing it with a just agreement between workers and employers, under the protection of justice emanating from the State." He then accused “the paid agitators, true social vampires (…) These true worms are the enemies of social conquests. We take these problems seriously, certain that in their solution lies the death of these agents of dissociation”.[viii] This laid the groundwork for persecution by gangsters, both inside and outside the trade union world, of opponents of Peronism.

According to Perón, “the labor movement is the backbone of Peronism”. Not your brain, not your leadership.

October 17th, 1945

In the midst of the economic crisis, the policy of concessions coming “from above” to sectors of the working class reached a limit. Opposition, among bosses and the army, to Perón grew in proportion to the colonel's popularity.

On October 9, 1945, General Eduardo Avalos summoned General Edelmiro Farrell, the de facto president, to dismiss Perón from all his posts (Vice President, Minister of War and Secretary of Labor and Social Security). The following day, Perón gave in to pressure and resigned from his duties, but demanded to leave on the national radio network.

In his speech, he identified his position in power as a guarantee of the continuity of social conquests, inviting workers to defend them: “The social work carried out is of such firm consistency that it will not yield to anything (…) This social work, which only workers appreciate at its true value, must also be defended by them in all areas”[ix]. This speech infuriated his opponents. On October 13, Perón was arrested on Martín García Island.

The news shocked the dispossessed masses. Unrest soon spread to factories and working-class neighborhoods. The General Confederation of Labor (CGT) called a general strike for the 18th. But the working people did not wait. On the 17th of October, endless columns of thousands of workers entered polite Buenos Aires, marching towards the Government House. The main banner: free Perón!

Spontaneous action by the working class broke out abruptly in the course of events. The perplexity of the bourgeoisie and the middle classes of the “Paris of South America” – a mixture of disgust and horror before what they called the “zoological wave” of the “black heads” – was complete.

Farrell has no choice but to negotiate with Perón and asks him to contain the masses. Perón demands a commitment to call elections, in which he would participate.

The agreement was reached and the caudillo appeared on the veranda of the Government House before the masses gathered in the Plaza de Mayo. Perón had no other task than to demobilize independent political action from the working class. He was aware that the time for the coronation had arrived, to capitalize on the discontent and the movement to his own advantage.

Calling for demobilization, he did not miss the opportunity to preach patience and confidence in State institutions: “Keep the calm with which you always waited, even for the improvements that never came. Let us have faith in the future and in the fact that the new authorities will guide the ship of State towards the destination to which we all aspire, as simple citizens at its service. I know that workers' mobilizations have been announced. At the moment, there is no longer any reason to do so. That is why I ask you, as an older brother, to calmly return to your work.”[X]

And he concluded: “From this historic hour for the Republic, may Colonel Perón be the bond of union that makes the fraternity between the people, the army and the police indestructible. May this union be eternal and infinite, so that this people can grow in that spiritual unity of the true and authentic forces of nationality and order”.[xi]

Peronism was born. A bourgeois movement with a strong presence in the working class and in the poorest sectors. A nationalist current, with a polyclassist social base, with the historic role of containing workers' mobilization and eliminating any hint of political independence of the working class.

The discredited military government called presidential elections for February 24, 1946. A large part of the trade union movement promoted the creation of the Labor Party with the aim of making Perón's candidacy viable.[xii]

The caudillo won the election with 52% of the votes, defeating the Democratic Union (UD), an electoral platform that brought together conservative forces – the majority of the Radical Civic Union (UCR), the main chambers and business media, and the president himself. Former US Ambassador Spruille Braden[xiii] – which was also enthusiastically joined by the Socialist Party and the CP.

This last party not only did not understand the new contingents of the proletariat and their sympathy for Perón, but also expressed a certain contempt for this social base. The excerpt “The colonel showed his cast of criminals and bandits that the country already had the opportunity to meet on the 17th and 18th [October 1945] (...) The most regrettable thing is that, with this cast, he managed to drag, by mistake, some honest elements of the working class without experience or political acumen”[xiv] could be read in Orientation, the communist press, on October 24, 1945.

The CP characterized the new phenomenon as “Nazi-Peronism”. Certainly, there were elements that supported this definition.[xv] However, the problem was that the workers' support for Perón did not raise, among the Argentine Stalinists, a political line that proposed an independent exit from the class, but rather the integration into a polyclassist front, led by the UCR and with the approval of the US embassy. USA.

They never tried to present a working-class alternative, opposed to Perón and the Democratic Union. Nor could they have done so. The conception of the Argentine revolution as “bourgeois democratic” imposed a choice between “progressive” and “reactionary” bourgeois camps. Moscow's order to promote the “popular fronts”, in the context of a policy of unity with the allied imperialisms, made the CP align itself unreservedly with the supposedly “democratic” bourgeois front, the UD.

With this logic, the party led by Victorio Codovilla sought to unify “all the traditional political parties; the most conscious and militant part of the workers' and peasants' movement, a large part of working and peasant youth, the immense majority of university youth, intellectuals and artists, professionals, professors, officials and the middle classes; the progressive sectors of industry, commerce, agriculture, livestock and finance, the majority of the army and navy, and part of the police, the democratic sectors of Catholicism and the entire press in the country, with the exception of Peronist newspapers”.[xvi]

The Communist Party's complete abandonment of a classist, internationalist, and revolutionary perspective was a contributing factor to the rise of Peronism in the labor movement.

With the astute slogan “Braden or Perón”, the colonel was elected president in 1946. In the following years, there was a wide reorganization of the labor movement; unions and internal committees were created by workplace. The contradiction was the strict state supervision of this process.

The double mechanism of co-option-repression operated with renewed force to control the labor unions. Union leaders not aligned with Peronism, those Perón called “professional agitators” or “agents of dissociation,” were relentlessly persecuted. The economic recovery allowed for a new cycle of concessions and assistance for the working class. The personality cult of Perón and his wife, Eva Duarte de Perón, anointed as “Spiritual Head of the Nation,” did the rest.

Perón was re-elected in 1951 and overthrown in a reactionary military coup on September 16, 1955, an episode that goes beyond the scope of these lines. Faced with the bankruptcy of Argentine social democracy and Stalinism, the memory of the working masses would be impregnated with the idea that “the happiest days were always Peronist”.

The memory of October 17, 1945 should serve to reinforce a historical lesson. Neither bosses, nor caudillos, nor generals will be able to free the working class: “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the workers themselves; for the struggle for the emancipation of the working class is not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for the establishment of equal rights and duties and for the abolition of all class privileges.”[xvii]

*Ronald Leon Nunez he holds a doctorate in history from USP. Author, among other books, of The War against Paraguay under debate (sundermann).


[I] The September 6, 1930 coup was led by General José Félix Uriburu, an admirer of Italian Fascism.

[ii] Son of General Julio Argentino Roca (1843-1914), former president and head of the so-called “Conquest of the Desert”.

[iii] Rapport, M. Economic, political and social history of Argentina (1880-2000). Buenos Aires: Macchi, 2000, p. 235.

[iv] In 1914, a third of the Argentine population was made up of foreigners.







[xi] Idem.

[xii] On May 23, 1946, after his electoral triumph, Perón began to press for the Labor Party and all sectors that supported it to form a single Peronist party. The Labor Party, after a period of resistance, dissolved in July 1947.

[xiii] On October 23, 1945, Braden would assume the position of US Assistant Secretary of State for American Republican Affairs.

[xiv] Mittelman, G. The Communist Party of Argentina and the origins of Peronism. An analysis from its Popular Front strategy. Available in:

[xv] During Perón's first government, hundreds of Nazi criminals such as Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele found refuge in Argentina. According to Perón, the Nuremberg trials were an “infamy”.

[xvi] Codovilla, v. Beat Nazi-Peronism to open an era of freedom and progress. Buenos Aires: Anteo, 1946, p. 18.

[xvii] General Statutes of the International Workers' Association, First International. Available in:

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